Emergency rooms, magical thinking, and the poor

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emergency sign Emergency rooms, magical thinking, and the poor

To hear Mitt Romney (and many others) tell it, Emergency Rooms are the physical embodiment of Mother Theresa, treating indigents like Jesus treated the lepers. The great seas of health care are suddenly parted for the poor and ill, and outstanding bills just miraculously become absorbed into the ether of write-off’s and tax exemptions.

This type of magical health care thinking isn’t limited to multi-millionaire politicians. Many in the public also believe ER’s effectively fill the wide gap between sickness and insurance. It’s a fallacy that has become so engrained that its standard line — get sick, get treated by an ER, get the tab picked up by someone else — goes nearly undisputed by those on both the right and the left.

That’s simply not the way it works.

Setting aside the fact that ER’s are not mandated to treat what their doctors may consider a non-emergency — a subject which merits its own, separate discussion — many uninsured ER patients find themselves saddled with bills they can’t hope to pay. These bills are not just from the hospital, but from outside physicians, diagnostic services, and laboratories, none of whom are mandated to treat the indigent or uninsured for free.

Depending upon the state and the hospital, uninsured patients may meet with a hospital social worker who will have them fill out forms for state aid or other programs. There is no guarantee of approval, and even when someone does qualify, benefits may not extend to other services rendered in the course of care.

On a trip across the US, I spoke to several people in dire straights due to medical debt. One of them was a homeless man in his 30s. John M. was a single laborer who was working a temp job when he was hit with over $8,000 in medical bills for non-work related wound that had led to a staph infection. In the hospital, he met with a social worker who helped him apply for aid. Later, he received notice that he didn’t qualify due to his income and status as a single person. The bills started pouring in, not just from the hospital, but from doctors whose names he didn’t recognize and labs that had processed his tests.

When bills like John’s go unpaid, hospitals and other businesses may “write them off,” but contrary to what many people may believe, this does not mean that they disappear. Collection agencies buy such debts for pennies on the dollar and then may vigorously pursue the patient-debtor, through judgments, wage garnishments, and bank account liens. To add to the confusion, medical debts can be bought and sold many times over, involving an almost incomprehensible string of collection agencies.

Like many people with medical debt, John attempted to work with the collection agencies on a payment plan, but there were too many of them, each demanding that their bill take precedence. Desperate for relief, John went to an agency that specializes in helping debtors reach payment agreements and was told he didn’t make enough to carry the minimum monthly payment that would be required. At that point, John considered filing for bankruptcy, but he couldn’t afford the attorney’s fees.

Four years after his illness, with his credit ruined and with several court judgments against him, John’s low wages were garnished and he could no longer afford his rent. He applied for a second job as a cashier at a home goods store and was told that they’d run his credit report as a matter of practice. It was the same at other places he applied. While he was never told why he wasn’t hired, he suspected that his low score had something to do with the lack of call-backs, particularly since he’d never had such a problem finding a minimum wage job before.

John scrambled for a cheaper place to live, but none of them were cheap enough to make up for the loss of wages, and all of them required better credit than his. He was told he’d need a cosigner or a larger deposit, neither of which he had. Feeling he had no choice, John quit his job and found work with another temp agency, hoping to outrun his garnishment and at least catch up on his rent. Within two months, the collection agencies had found his new place of employment and set the wheels in motion to collect their pay. John was eventually evicted. Jobless, he lived out of his 14 year-old truck for a while, but then his truck died and he couldn’t afford repairs. He sold it for scrap so that he could eat. He showed up at the county day labor office every weekday, hoping to make enough money to rent a motel room. Sometimes there was work, sometimes there wasn’t. Sometimes he slept in shelters, but many times he slept in the streets. When winter got to be too much, he scraped together enough to take a bus to a warmer climate. When I met him, he was among many of Florida’s homeless and his prospects for crawling out of the hole were dimmer than ever.

Of course, not all stories are as extreme as John’s, but the fact that some are is a stark reminder of how easily a life can be unraveled, particularly when medical debt can bring a host of life-altering consequences.

Some people do end up qualifying for State programs, and there are some hospitals which have developed their own foundations to assist in care, but there’s no national uniformity to the system. While an uninsured person at one hospital may qualify to have their ER charges reduced or paid for by another entity, another person, at another hospital, may not.

In any case, medical debt is on the rise and collection agencies are becoming increasingly aggressive in pursuing debtors.

The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that sponsors health care research, estimates that 22 million Americans were contacted by collection agencies for unpaid medical bills in 2005. That increased to 30 million Americans in 2010. – March 2012, USA Today

As the article in USA Today points out, credit may be wrecked even when medical debt is paid. Slow and late payments can stay on records for seven years, and as much as ten if there is a judgment involved. There is also a valid and growing concern that collection agencies are misusing the court system to have debtors thrown in jail, adding the element of warrants and jail time to people’s background checks which, like poor credit, may diminish their future employment and housing opportunities. Poverty by itself is a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape. Adding collections, garnishments, judgments, bad credit, and arrests to the list of obstacles can make it nearly impossible. In the bigger picture, it would seem to do more harm to our economy and social structure to keep people locked in the cycle of medical debt for years on end, rather than to offer them a real solution.

Despite receiving tax exemptions to care for the uninsured and poor, some hospitals have gone so far as to sue these patients for what they are owed. Others, as noted, turn their debts over to collection agencies. In the mix are the outside services which are not given the same exemptions, and which aren’t subject to the same guidelines.

The result of all of this is that both patients and the medical care industry are suffering, while collection agencies are growing richer. By 2007, the number of collection agents had doubled from the early 1990s, while industry revenue tripled to $15 billion (on $40 billion in collected debt).

So, no, emergency rooms are not the answer for America’s sick and uninsured. The illness that’s treated today should not result in years of financial consequences, which not only affects individuals, but society as a whole. To what end is a culture that binds people to medical debt in ways that may cost them their homes, jobs, and futures? To what end is a medical system that only increases the need for shelters, welfare, and other social services — while burdening the healthcare industry with millions of dollars in extra costs? An America that grows poverty is not as valuable as an America that grows potential. Anyone who would argue against that is as short-sighted as they are unreasonable.

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This is not a donut

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notadonut This is not a donut

Mitt Romney released his final 2011 taxes today and the media are all over it like there is some precious jewel they will uncover. For me, the fact that he has been arrogantly obstinate about not releasing more than two years tells me all I need to know about his character.

I was content with that until Chris Hayes from the UP w/ Chris Hayes Show tweeted something rather pointed this afternoon about Mitt’s tax returns that got me thinking.

I think it’s actually morally condemnable to take “extraordinary” measures to avoid taxes, even if legal. #hashout

I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that everything on the Romney tax returns is entirely legal. Every deduction, every exemption and every income category complies with the letter of the law. And that is the crux of the issue Hayes was getting at.

Chris is young. He is not a grizzled, hardened small business person — yet — so we can forgive him his moralizing for a moment. But this got me thinking about how Mitt sees the tax code and why it is a peek into his character. For this point to stick, we need to climb into the Wayback Machine to the ’80s and watch a short clip of a Cosby Show episode. This is the one where Claire was invited to be on a panel for a Sunday morning show much like Hayes’ except the pastries were kept in the green room.

It’s a good thing we’ve evolved and let the pastries join us at the table. Let’s watch.

The scene that aligns with Mitt’s behavior and Hayes’ tweet is when Hector say, “This is not a donut!” as he bites hungrily into a chocolate-glazed long john. He is technically correct; a long john is not a donut. But it really IS a donut. You and I would call a long john a donut. So would Claire. And Cliff Huxtable knows damn well that a long john — and even a danish which he eventually bites into — is a donut.

This is what the “morally condemnable” bit is that I think Hayes is referring to. While Mitt’s tax avoidance may be perfectly legal, it is immoral to dance on the letter of the law as you force the spirit of the law to give up the ghost.

.

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Mitt the painter

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mitt1 Mitt the painter

While all the cable news shows are struggling with how to balance the odd appearance of Clint Eastwood and covering Mitt Romney’s speech, I went back and looked at the transcript and watched the video more times than one dog should be allowed. I nearly went deaf with all the dog whistles, but I soldiered on, trying to get to the essence of what he was saying.

The speech kinda rambled, trying to cover too many things too quickly, but one phrase popped out that lays bare the Romney thinking. It’s at about minute 33:50. So far, I think all the “analysts” have missed it. They may have been too busy focusing on the applause in the house instead of the words being said on stage.

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.

For months, we have been told the GOP was the party of big ideas, of bold and brave decisions. I think this one statement — buried right after the five-part jobs creation plan that appeared to be ripped out of a freshman economics textbook — crystalizes what a Romney presidency would really be like. It is the one thing in the speech that is consistent with his life and his campaign.

While President Obama works to solve the structural problems that creates the symptoms, a President Romney would focus on solving the symptoms. What does it help your family if they are in a nice house that is being swallowed up by the rising tides?

In short, we will paint over the water stains, flip this country and sell it to the highest bidder. Romney’s America is not a country that needs the foundation shored up and invested in, it is a 1 1/2 story bungalow with a crumbling foundation that just needs a new coat of paint.

This is the essence of what Romney did at Bain Capital. He found a fixer-upper, leveraged it to suck wealth out of it for a few owners at the top and discarded it or sold it off to the suckers who thought they were getting a good deal. That’s not a bad thing, that is what private equity is supposed to be good at. But I’m pretty sure it is not the skill set a president needs.

America needs infrastructure investment like health care, modern railways, education, roads, bridges, communications, modernized banking, environment and power. She also needs help with the intangible infrastructure like happiness, relief from chronic anxiety and a boost of confidence. And yes, she needs more hope and change.

America does not need more paint on her walls.

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Seventeen minutes that changed the world

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b o 2004 150x150 Seventeen minutes that changed the world

Like many Americans, I stayed up late last night to listen to Governor Chris Christie deliver the keynote address at the Republican National Convention. I wanted to hear how Mitt Romney will transform the stagnant economy, how he will inspire us all to get up each morning and work; not because we have to, but because we are eager to build something our children and their children’s children can be proud of.

I was disappointed. What I heard was a tirade about how we need to quit whining, walk it off and get back into the coal mine. You haven’t yet lost all the fingers on your hands and your back is not yet broken.

When he finished speaking, I lifted my broken body from the coach, silently turned off the television and shuffled off to bed, feeling not only uninspired but a little more depressed. I prayed silently that I not wake up in the morning. Not in Chris Christie’s America.

But I did wake up. And on a whim — for the sake of comparison — I Googled Barack Obama’s 2004 keynote speech. I was reminded that life is lived in the moments, that seventeen minutes in a life can make a difference. Whether or not you voted — or will vote — for Barack Obama, would you not really want to live in an inspired America than a downtrodden and drepressing one?


On C_SPAN

I want to live there. I think many, many more do as well.

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Zoey is not impressed

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Zoey is not impressed with your startup, the quality of this morning’s walk, the NBC Olympics coverage, Mitt Romney’s tax return explanation, Ann Romney’s whining about left wing attacks, Paul Ryan’s budget and the amount of frosting on the cupcake she had for dessert just a few minutes ago.

Take all that for whatever it is worth.

zoey is not impressed Zoey is not impressed

#zoeyisnotimpressed

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What Ryan and Romney don’t understand about Medicare

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ryan plan What Ryan and Romney dont understand about Medicare

Medicare is not about health insurance or health care. It is not about the money.

It is about security. It is about finally not having to worry about pre-existing conditions or getting kicked off a medical insurance plan. It is about not having to worry whether you are healthy enough to qualify for membership. It is about finally not having to pass some sort of test administered by a faceless, heartless insurance company review board.

It is about not having to lie and hide your real health issues to fool some hospital or doctor into treating you.

It is regaining your dignity as a human being.

It is about a release from the following things and more that you have suffered through the past 47+ years you have been working in a country that says it values you but only cares about how economically viable you are.

– The anxiety of being able to hang on to a job you hate but provides your health care.

– The anxiety that comes every October/November when the company you work for rolls out your benefits choices where your premiums and co-pays increase, your coverage shrinks and your doctor is no longer a choice on the plan.

– The anxiety every year when your individual plan you carry as a small business owner renewal date comes around and you hope that the letter is only a premium increase of 20-30% and not one that says they are dropping you because you went to the doctor last year for a bone scan or an MRI.

– The anxiety of hoping you will have insurance when the company merger is completed.

– The anxiety of not being able to take a day off to see the doctor for that cough that won’t go away because it could be cancer and if it is, you will need to use your company-provided insurance, get fired for some “performance issues” and then lose your insurance. The small comfort you feel because you will die knowing you did not cause extreme hardship on your family for not getting treated.

Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney will never feel any of that anxiety which makes it easy to tout courageous and bold decisions.

In the twilight hours of the day, the truth is your plan is neither bold nor courageous if your dog ain’t in the hunt.

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A minute in the life of a dog

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We filmed Zoey — our intern — for one full minute.

I’m sure there is a life lesson here, but I can’t see it. Can you?

Screen Shot 2012 08 14 at 3.10.15 PM A minute in the life of a dog

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What the housing experts are missing that Warren Buffet sees

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warrenb 150x150 What the housing experts are missing that Warren Buffet seesWatch the following video. See if you can spot the trend. I’ll give you a hint; it is almost at the very end, but you have to watch the whole thing to pick up on it.

Did you hear it? If not, watch the video again.

Warren Buffet is investing in COMMERCIAL INVESTMENT stuff, the banks that lend money to commercial leasing companies. But these commercial leasing companies aren’t leasing traditional commercial space. They are leasing to commercial property holders that are buying up the inventory of foreclosed properties, fixing them up like flips but instead of flipping for resale, they are flipping for longer-term leases to people who have kids and have grown used to the suburban lifestyle.

These commercial leasing companies are creating suburban slums in the first and second outer suburban rings to city centers.

Watch the video again. Did you catch it? Do you now understand why these pompous “experts” never quite see trends coming? I’ll give you more than a hint on that; I’ll give you the answer.

They are too enamored with the sound of their own voice to listen to what they’re saying.

This is why Congress has no interest in helping out those going through foreclosure. If they intervened, it would slow or stop the flow of inventories into the private residential leasing industry.

The real estate market is heating up and recovering; it’s just not flowing wealth into the middle class but rather, pushing more wealth into the upper classes and corporate coffers. Corporations have found a way to skim off the wealth that even a massive recession creates.

Give me another ten years and see if I’m right. I’ll bet you $10,000 I am.

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The chicken is a red herring

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palins The chicken is a red herring

Yesterday was Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, which resulted in photos splayed all over the Internet of slack-jawed Oakies, holding up sandwich bags of fresh, blood-splattered carcasses gleaned from the day-long rabbit clubbing frenzy in No Man’s Land.

Some of the red-letter citizens of No Man’s Land America are posted to the right. You may recognize them by their goofy grins and the thumbs up “okey-dokey.”

As the day unfolded, I marveled at the Right’s ability to mobilize their army to march out to their local Chick-fil-A and buy a sack of fat and carbs without reservation. What power, what pull. But in the light of day, fueled by a wee-hours chat with two really smart women on the twitter, I came to realize something: Chick-fil-A really messed this one up.

What the hell, dawg? No, they had a great day. There were lines out the door and down the block!

Settle down and let me explain.

Chick-fil-A may have sold a lot of sandwiches yesterday, but thanks to the meddling of Mike Huckabee, they don’t know why. When Cathy spouted off in his interview about one-man, one-woman Biblical family definition, blah, blah, blah, the issue had clarity. If you supported Chick-fil-A, you also supported their beliefs. If you boycotted, you didn’t. If you were oblivious, you probably just liked their chicken sandwiches. When Huckabee got involved, he threw the issue kattywhompass by encouraging people to support a great small business, to boycott the boycott, to show that the voice of the American people could not be silenced by a bunch of left-leaning, commie weenies.

Alrighty, then. So now we have some people going to Chick-fil-A because they are lemming drones with GOP knee-jerk marching orders vaguely based on some goofy understanding of the First Amendment, some people showing up because they support Cathy’s version of family, some people out of pure hatred for gay people and some people who were just caught up in the fracas going to their lunch place.

In their frenzy to stick it to the Left, the Conservatives left yet one more organization in shambles trying to figure out what just happened, proving once again they can win an issue, but can’t govern or manage. The chicken for these cultural locusts was just one more pest to club on their way to solving a problem they have not defined or thought through. If Chick-fil-A thought they had an ally on the Right, they are probably wrong. The Right is on to club the next thing in their way. After all, there is an election on the horizon.

Chick-fil-A had a great day yesterday, but they don’t know what to do today. They know less about why people eat at Chick-fil-A today than they thought they knew the day before yesterday.

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A calculation almost every American man over fifty has made in his head

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empty boots A calculation almost every American man over fifty has made in his head

There is one calculation that almost every American man over fifty* has made in his head that he will almost never admit to. The ones who have made it more than once and many times a year are the ones who have families and responsibilities who now find themselves at the scary end of a medical diagnosis and/or the threat or reality of unemployment.

That calculation is:

Am I worth more dead than alive?

The columns and totals never really see a piece of paper, but they are nonetheless very real.

In the assets column:
That term life insurance that has five more years before it expires and has no value: $250,000.00; Cash in the bank: $50,000.00; That 401(k) I started too late; $30,000.00; Stocks and bonds I randomly bought; $35,000.00; House equity, assuming it can actually be sold in this economy: $100,000.00… and on through the value of furniture, cars and power tools in the garage.

In the liabilities column:
I just got fired, so my unemployment is only $481.00 a week but bills with mortgage and food is $2,100 a month, losing $200.00 a month… I’ll soon lose my health insurance and COBRA is a $900.00 set back per month making that $1,100.00 a month just standing still… if I am unemployed for more than six months, that will be about $10,000.00 gone from the bank account, making the past couple years of savings a waste of time… chances are, I will be unemployed for the rest of my life in this economy, so that will just stretch on, losing my family $20,000.00 a year with me being alive. I will lose my health coverage in less than a year and a half… That is a lot of cash, and that life insurance policy just inched its way to being one year less valuable with no employment in sight…

I just got diagnosed with a pretty serious health condition that will make it difficult for me to work. I will soon be out of a job as my employer will get tired of me calling in sick all the time… I will lose my health care coverage.. if I go into the hospital, that will cost about $8,000.00 a day, depleting my cash in about a week… the mortgage is due in a week… the last tuition bill is due in a couple months… and on and on down to how much dog food is left and how much that will cost to replenish…

If I die today, my family will be ok. If I die in a year or two, my family will be bankrupt, penniless and possibly homeless.

Sure, the kids will say that I am worth more to them alive than dead, regardless of how much money I have. Yeah, “I love you even if you are broke,” “you bring joy to others around you” and “life is not always about money” are things I expect to hear from friends and family.

But I know they are not true. Not really.

Our culture rewards those who are healthy and able to work and shuns those who have fallen on hard times. It guts the sick, dying and unemployed quickly in order to salvage what it can before the corpse begins to rot. It knows the time value of money.

Men know it too. We have made those calculations in our head at every turn throughout our lives. When we buy a house, we calculate how long we’ll have to be employed at this job to pay the mortgage in full. When we have kids, we calculate what we’ll have to earn and sock away to pay for the birthday parties, soccer practice, bicycles, cars and college tuition even as we watch them laugh and dance as if they haven’t a care in the world; even as we laugh and dance with them. We worry our backs and minds will give out before we are able to deliver them into adulthood and breath a sigh of relief when we no longer have to be concerned they won’t have enough to eat.

When we get to about fifty, we eventually make the ultimate calculation. We arrive at a break-even, whether anyone wants us to or not; whether we admit it or not.

The only thing we fear more than getting it wrong is losing the ability to execute if we ever needed to.

*With the exception of highly-paid politicians or the super-rich who never have to worry about health care. For clarification, this isn’t me. I’m fine and gainfully employed at my own company despite my best efforts at getting my boss to fire me icon smile A calculation almost every American man over fifty has made in his head This is a persona of a 50+ year old man who had a “good job” for most of his life.

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Move yer bloomin’ arse

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ascot Move yer bloomin arse

In the middle of the Ascot Opening Day scene of My Fair Lady, where every duke and earl and peer was prim and proper watching the horse race in their best dress and most proper composure, Eliza shouts out what everyone there was thinking, “MOVE YER BLOOMIN’ ARSE!.”

It was funny because of the backdrop which the scene was against but since it was an innately human response nobody really thought it terribly offensive. It was what in their heads and what they all wish they had the guts to shout.

This is the scene that runs through my head every time I hear some journalist or pundit say the American people are tired of the mudslinging in the election.

Tired of it? Tired of it? Are you kidding me? We’re the culture that created boxing, cage matches, reality TV and Omarosa. We love this stuff.

But we’ll never admit it. Oh, no, never. We also would never admit to liking Taylor Swift, Rebecca Black or Carly Rae Jepsen or Hanson either. (G’on click on the links. It will be our secret.)

The latest reality TV is now looking to upend American Idol. Steven Tyler and JLo, do you really want to be leaving now that you both can single-handedly decide the Presidential election?

And now for the entertainment face-off part of the blog post.

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Two questions we should ask Mitt Romney

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abc romney Two questions we should ask Mitt Romney

Last night, Mitt Romney conducted some hastily-organized interviews with the major networks in part to respond to the deluge of attacks by Barack Obama about his role at Bain Capital. He did not do very well because I think he was confused by the lack of understanding of corporate governance the reporters exhibited in their questions.

Ironically, as the GOP pushes to slash education budgets, more and more Americans are learning less and less about how business works. Most kids are now being trained to go to work, punch a clock and expect money for work. They don’t understand the difference between passive and active income, an executive vs a shareholder position in a corporation or the relationship of a board member to a CEO. All they know now is you are either the boss or you isn’t.

Oops. I’ll bet Mitt did not see that coming. If he had, his explanations would make as much sense to the nails ladies and the dogs walkers as they do to the 1%-ers. In short, he would not be in this pickle.

As someone who holds annual shareholder meetings with the shareholders (me) and my board (me) and my CEO (me) I understand the nuance. Is it silly? Absolutely. I should not have to generate meeting minutes where the Secretary (me) takes role call of all the directors (me) and also calls for a vote on mundane things and seconds them (me and me.) But, the letter of the law and my corporate charter is very specific so we (me) do it.

But we should really move on and away from all this legal crap and into some questions everyone understands.

Question One:
If you resigned as CEO, who specifically was then in charge? What was the organizational chart? Please name the names of who reported to whom. Will you release the Board of Directors meeting minutes that show these votes?

Question Two:
We will accept at face value that you resigned from Bain Captial in 1999. Since then, you have led the Olympics — a non profit — and were governor of Massachusetts, a public-sector job. Since being governor, you have been running for President of the United States. That is a thirteen year gap in your private-sector, for-profit business experience résumé. Please explain how this is not like a typical stay-at-home mom who may have left an executive career to raise her kids and is now trying to re-enter the workforce?

That should do it. Just two questions.

Which news organization is going to take me up on this?

.

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What does it mean to own something?

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soldsign What does it mean to own something?

I passed this sign on the way through the Village of North Clayton on our way to the “dog park” yesterday and it made me pause. Firstly, because it wasn’t there yesterday so that probably means the economy is starting to move (we’ll lose our dogpark when it does) but also, because the lot is in one of those “planned villages.”

The dirty little secret about these planned villages is when someone buys a lot and builds a building, the developer still owns the property. The structure is on private property even though it looks like a public street. No First Amendment protections, endless association fees and in this case, every business not only pays rent, but a percentage of its sales.

In dog-speak, owning something now means a leash.

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Why Mitt Romney should not be president

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mitt Why Mitt Romney should not be president

I don’t think Mitt Romney should be the President of the United States and not for the reasons you may think a left-leaning, socialist mutt would cite. Let’s take away the politics and look at the man running for president.

When I see Mitt, I think of the quote from Zed in Men In Black

Gentlemen, congratulations. You’re everything we’ve come to expect from years of government training. Now please step this way, as we provide you with our final test: an eye exam…

Substitute the word “government” for “upper class society” and you nailed Mitt.

The presidency is just the next step in a to-do list of things a good upper-crust American is expected to do. This is the formula for a legacy. It’s like he is fulfilling a high school résumé to get into a good college. It becomes problematic when we are watching the formula play out.

  • Private school: check
  • Missionary work abroad: check
  • Marry pretty girl: check
  • BYU degree: check
  • Create perfect family: check
  • Harvard MBA/Law Degree: check
  • CEO of a wealth-creating company: check
  • Community service (Olympics): check
  • Elected position (Gov of Mass): check
  • President of the United States: Working on it

And the list goes on to include things like become the elder patriarch, establish a Romney Foundation, etc, etc. It is the perfect data-driven life. Do that, get that result.

I think it was the late Mary-Ellis Bunim, the creator of MTV’s The Real World who once said (and I am paraphrasing because I’m not sure it was her but I’m pretty sure it was MTV) “If the audience ever sees our marketing, the show is dead.” The whole premise of the show — and why it worked the first season — is inscribed in the show’s opening narrative:

This is the true story… of seven strangers… picked to live in a house…work together and have their lives taped… to find out what happens… when people stop being polite… and start getting real…The Real World.

MTV knew they could fake real to teens only if they were successful in hiding the “man behind the curtain.” Once the curtain was pulled back, the gig was up, the magic was gone. The legacy of the 1992 The Real World is a swath of “reality” shows that don’t even pretend to be reality anymore, but rather modern day Gladiator fights.

I don’t often find myself agreeing with Rupert Murdoch*, but I agree with him when he says Mitt “lacks stomach and heart.” Americans like their president to have heart, passion and a depth of soul. Even when we disagree with them, think they are the worst thing to happen to our country in generations, feel they are illegitimate, know they are shady and shifty, we want — we need — them to have passion, fight and guts. We need them to look the world in the eye and say, “tear down this wall” or stand on a pile of rubble with a bullhorn in one hand or stand proud in the face of a plummeting economy on a cold Winter’s day and reassure us all that the only thing we ever need to overcome the deafening wail of economic darkness on the horizon is the tiniest bit of hope that can be fanned into a roaring flame of change.

Even when he attempts to stand up and connect on a visceral level with voters, Mitt falls flat. In his latest reaction to the jobs report this month, he called it a “kick in the gut.” A kick in the gut is losing your job today and your husband losing his tomorrow. A kick in the gut is surviving a spinal cord injury for several years and your wife/caregiver dies of lung cancer less than a year after you. A kick in the gut is surviving three tours abroad and getting into a car accident on your way home from the airport. A kick in the gut is not a crappy jobs report in the middle of a crappy economy. It may be a disappointment. It could be a bit of angst. It could also be a bit of an anxious moment, but it is not a kick in the gut.

Mitt Romney may have the brains; he may have the background and the connections to get things done, but he doesn’t have the heart and guts for what lies ahead.

*I agreed with Murdoch here.

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Dern ye, ya shoulda taken d’pie

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hmmm pie Dern ye, ya shoulda taken dpie

When I was fifteen, I worked as a cook for The Viking Village Smorgasbord on Snelling Ave in St. Paul, MN. It’s not there anymore and someone long ago turned the building into a furniture store. A few decades have passed since I last clocked in, but a few stories stick vividly in my brain as if they happened only yesterday.

In “The Cities,” as we were wont to say, we prided ourselves on being urbane, but we were surrounded by the State of Minnesota that had its share of dirt farmers. On this particular weeknight, a farm couple wandered in for dinner. He was wearing his best overalls and she, her best go-to-church Sunday dress. Neither had very many teeth, their faces were ruddy with sun and wind and their hands gnarled from years of manual farm work. They held all the cash they were going to spend in The Cities in their hands. Maybe it was all they had left, maybe all they started out with or everything they planned on spending but you could tell it wasn’t much.

Dinner was $4.95, all you could eat, not including pie. Pie was extra.

They had gone down the line, filling their plates with fried chicken, steamed cod and mashed potatoes. She had a comment on everything, mostly with how delicious everything looked. I think she was just happy she didn’t have to cook for one evening. In her mind, her husband was treating her like a queen for a night. And when they got to the end of the food line, he confirmed it.

“Did you want a piece of pie?” she asked. He shook his head and said, “No, you go ahead. It cost extra.”

“We got enough,” she said and he caught my eye. I looked down and began wiping the line.

“No, no.. there is tax and everything. You go ahead.”

As the cashier rang up their meal, I looked up and noticed her counting out the remaining money. I got a sense that it was close, but more than enough to cover the price of another piece of pie.

She looked up at him and said, “Dern ye, ya shoulda taken d’pie!”

Happy National Pie Week. If life offers you a piece of pie, take it. There will be more than enough lean days ahead.

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Posted in American Culture, Essays, Just thinking out loud, Pop Culture, Puppyhood, Random Stuff | Tagged , , | 6 Comments